In autumn 2000 Mercedes-Benz presented the C-Class Sports Coupé at the Paris Motor Show. Internally designated the CL 203, this model series was delivered from spring 2001. This sporty, dynamic-looking two-door vehicle was the first C-Class Coupé to be offered by Mercedes-Benz. The model complemented the exceptionally sporty vehicles in the brand's range by adding an attractive entry-level model to the SLK, CLK, SL and CL-Classes. In technical terms, the Sports Coupé was based on the C-Class Saloon launched in March 2000. It therefore incorporated all the exciting innovations that had established this new Mercedes-Benz model series as a trendsetter as soon as it was released.
The body was 183 millimetres shorter than the Saloon (4343 millimetres in length compared to 4526 millimetres) and 20 millimetres lower (1406 millimetres in height compared to 1426 millimetres). The width (1728 millimetres) and wheelbase (2715 millimetres) were unchanged. Striking differences from the Saloon included the flat, more inclined radiator grille with wide louvres and a large, central Mercedes star along with the Mercedes-Benz badge positioned centrally above the radiator grille, the more elliptic contours of the headlamps, the lower front apron which appeared wider, the sporty rear and, of course, the dynamic wedge shape with elegant side line.
Although it shared a modular bodyshell structure with the C-Class Saloon, the new body variant went its own way in terms of style and concept. The particular aim was to accommodate the desires of young people wanting a car that truly offered an experience, as well as exemplary driving dynamics. Powerful proportions and a central star on the radiator grille determined the aesthetics of the sporty new Mercedes model, clearly identifying the two-door vehicle as a member of the Mercedes Coupé club despite the uncoupé-like B-pillar.
This concept met with a great response from the market: the C-Class Sports Coupé proved to be a sales hit in the very year it was launched. With 59,000 vehicles sold during 2001, sales of the Sports Coupé exceeded even the highest expectations: sales of all C-Class models totalled 506,500 vehicles in 2001, with the Sports Coupé therefore accounting for more than ten percent.
One stylistic feature of the completely newly developed coupé design was the high rear end with integral spoiler and the dark-tinted panel between the tail lights. The designers at Mercedes-Benz deliberately adopted a striking and unique style. The Sports Coupé concept gave them the opportunity to combine dynamism with extraordinary and expressive elements. At the rear end, the design fulfilled special formal as well as functional requirements: in the interests of active safety, the high spoiler lip at the rear of the Coupé provided exceptionally good aerodynamic downforce on the rear axle, while the stylistically exciting panel also acted as a window by giving the driver good rear visibility by coupé standards. This was particularly beneficial when parking.
An optional panoramic sliding sunroof delivered a light and airy feel in the interior and a feeling of maximum openness to the sky. This new development from Mercedes-Benz entered series production for the first time in the C-Class Sports Coupé. The panoramic effect was created by a large glazed area extending across the entire roof. At the touch of a button, the front half of the roof would glide backwards. The roof opening was around a third larger than with a conventional sliding sunroof. Because the front section of the panoramic sliding sunroof moved outside the bodywork, it did not restrict the passengers' headroom. Two electrically operated roller blinds on the inside protected the Coupé interior from sunlight when the sliding sunroof was closed.
Another new development made its debut in the C-Class Sports Coupé: the optional SEQUENTRONIC six-speed automated transmission. This enhanced the dynamic driving experience by enabling fast, precise gear changes while at the same time reducing fuel consumption. Electrical impulses transferred the driver's shift command to the transmission, rendering mechanical hardware and the clutch pedal superfluous. Lightly nudging the gear lever was enough to prompt the system to open the clutch automatically, change gear and close the clutch once more. In "Auto Shift" mode, SEQUENTRONIC saved the driver effort and changed gear automatically depending on the driving situation. As an option, the C-Class Sports Coupé was also available with an electronically controlled, five-speed automatic transmission. Touchshift as standard boosted operating comfort.
The C-Class Sports Coupé included all the technical innovations as standard which had already made the Saloon a trendsetting vehicle: the list of features ranged from the windowbag to the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, from the adaptive driver and front passenger airbag to Headlamp Assist. Other technological milestones were optionally available for the Sports Coupé such as the COMAND control and display system with dynamic route guidance, the voice-operated control system LINGUATRONIC for telephone and car radio, the luxury automatic climate control THERMOTRONIC with sensor controls and activated charcoal filter, plus advanced telematics services.
The interior was characterised by trim parts made of aluminium, a three-spoke steering wheel with illuminated controls for the car radio, car phone and other functions, as well as a sportily designed cockpit. Unlike the Saloon and Estate versions of the C-Class, Mercedes-Benz did not offer different equipment lines for the Sports Coupé CL 203: due to the body style's strong dynamism, the standard version was comprehensively equipped rather than offering individual models. The vehicle's sporty character could be underlined by selecting the EVOLUTION sports package or the EVOLUTION AMG sports package as optional extras. Features here included a lowered sports suspension at the front and rear, 17-inch light-alloy rims, pedals in polished steel, shift lever knob and steering wheel in leather and - with the EVOLUTION AMG sports package - a styling package specially developed by Mercedes-AMG.
Due to its ergonomic balance, the interior of the Sports Coupé fitted the driver and passengers like a made-to-measure suit. The driver in particular benefited from all controls within easy reach - an important factor for driving dynamically. The two rear passengers enjoyed comfortable single seats with fully folding seat cushions and backrests, which allowed a level load area to be created in the back. In conjunction with a large tailgate, the Sports Coupé offered estate-like flexibility - depending on the position of the rear seats, the boot space could be increased from 310 litres to up to 1100 litres (VDA measuring method).
The engine line-up comprised four advanced four-cylinder units with high performance potential: the high-torque 2.3-litre engine (145 kW/197 hp) in the C 230 KOMPRESSOR was already familiar from the roadster in the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class. Courtesy of the mechanically charged engine, the Sports Coupé completed the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 8 seconds. The top speed was 240 km/h. The range also included the C 180 (95 kW/129 hp), the C 200 KOMPRESSOR (120 kW/163 hp) and the diesel C 220 CDI with common rail direct injection. The latter's engine generated 105 kW (143 hp) and consumed just 6.2 litres of fuel (NEDC combined cycle).
In the second half of 2002 Mercedes-Benz brought a new generation of four-cylinder engines - the M 271 family - to market in the C-Class models. There were four variants of an advanced 1.8-litre engine to choose from - all featuring the unique TWINPULSE system which brought together various technologies such as supercharging, intercooling, a four-valve-per-cylinder design, variable camshaft adjustment, Lanchester balancer and adaptive drive dynamics to minimise fuel consumption while delivering maximum driving enjoyment and running smoothness.
In 2002 Mercedes-Benz also offered a 125 kW (170 hp), direct-injection petrol system for the first time, which was available in the C 200 CGI Sports Coupé from 2003. This was the world's first engine of this kind to combine groundbreaking direct injection with supercharging and dynamic balancer. The abbreviation CGI on the rear of the Mercedes-Benz models indicated the presence of advanced engine technology. It stood for "Stratified Charged Gasoline Injection".
Despite the new engine's increased output, direct petrol injection resulted in a fuel saving of over 19 percent compared to the equivalent predecessor C-Class model. For example, the C 200 CGI consumed just 7.8 litres of sulphur-free, Super Plus petrol per 100 kilometres (NEDC combined cycle). From as early as 1500 rpm, this direct-injection engine provided over 75 percent of its maximum torque of 250 newton metres, which it developed from 3000 rpm and held constant through to 4500 rpm.
Supplied from summer 2002, the three new four-cylinder engines with conventional port injection met all the prerequisites for high economy and a dynamic driving experience: the C 180 KOMPRESSOR accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.7 seconds and reached a top speed of 222 km/h, making it 1.3 seconds faster on the sprint than the existing C 180 model with M 111 engine and 12 km/h faster overall. At 8.4 litres of premium unleaded per 100 kilometres (NEDC combined cycle) fuel consumption was bettered by one litre, an improvement of more than 11 percent for the new C 200 KOMPRESSOR compared to the previous model. Its four-cylinder engine reached maximum torque of 240 newton metres (predecessor: 230 newton metres) at 3000 rpm. The variant of the new four-cylinder engine with the highest output and torque (141 kW/192 hp; 260 newton metres), which Mercedes-Benz initially offered exclusively in the Sports Coupé as the C 230 KOMPRESSOR, outdid the fuel consumption of its predecessor by 0.7 litres for every 100 kilometres.
Mercedes-Benz engineers achieved these very good consumption figures for the new four-cylinder units mainly by moving the operating points to engine speed ranges with optimal thermodynamic efficiency. Decreasing the displacement to 1.8 litres also had a noticeable effect on consumption thanks to reduced friction and improved thermodynamics. Exemplary agility and dynamism came courtesy of the supercharging deployed by all new-generation engines. Thanks to this aspect, high torque was available from idle speed which in turn gave a 13-percent longer overall ratio. This meant that the new engines were largely derestricted and therefore particularly economical to operate. The world's only combination of supercharging with Lanchester balancer resolved a further conflict of aims thanks to the TWINPULSE system: the balancer shafts compensated for engine vibrations caused by the principles involved, thereby delivering exemplary refinement in this displacement category.
Innovative CGI technology was based on a foundation rich in tradition. Both supercharging and direct petrol injection had a long history at Mercedes-Benz. The Stuttgart-based car brand had actually presented this technology in the 300 SL Coupé (W 198 I) back in the mid-1950s. This sports car was the first series production automobile with a direct injection four-stroke engine - a sensation that noticeably improved the six-cylinder engine's performance. At the start of the 21st century, other aspects were at the forefront as this injection technology was developed further, namely to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust gas emissions. A longstanding technical issue was overcome thanks to considerable advances in the area of emission control and engine management: the lean-burn engine operation necessary for favourable fuel consumption at the same time as deploying catalytic converter technology normally required a stoichiometric air/fuel mixture (14.6:1). The solution was a newly developed NOx storage catalytic converter to adsorb nitrogen oxides during lean-burn operation and to release them again in short regeneration phases, in order to form harmless nitrogen with the help of other exhaust emission components. Thanks to this technology, which Mercedes-Benz combined with exhaust gas recirculation and secondary air injection in the new direct petrol injection engine, the C 200 CGI reliably beat future Euro 4 limits.
Following extensive innovations on the four-cylinder models, Mercedes-Benz also unveiled two new high-performance vehicles as Sports Coupés in 2002: first the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz C 32 AMG petrol model followed by the five-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 30 CDI AMG diesel. Mercedes-AMG GmbH had developed these special vehicles, which combined powerful, high-tech drive systems with a compact sports body, for fans of ultimate driving pleasure.
The C 32 AMG, a 4.34-metre two-door vehicle, was powered by a newly developed V6 supercharged engine that had already been enabling dynamic fun at the wheel in the C 32 AMG Saloon and the SLK 32 AMG. The supercharged six-cylinder engine delivered a maximum output of 260 kW (354 hp) at 6100 rpm and maximum torque of 450 newton metres at 4400 rpm. It took just 5.2 seconds to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h and the top speed was 250 km/h (electronically controlled). Power transmission was handled by a five-speed automatic transmission with AMG SPEEDSHIFT. This function combined the dynamism of a manual transmission with the comfort of an automatic. In conjunction with mechanical torque converter lockup from first gear, the "optimum gear" function and active engine-braking downshift made for an exceptionally direct driving experience. More immediate and 35 percent faster gear changes completed the AMG SPEEDSHIFT transmission settings.
The developers had also adjusted the braking system and chassis of the Mercedes-Benz C 32 AMG Sports Coupé to suit the high level of driving dynamics. Newly setup spring damper elements all round, slightly larger stabilisers and lowering the body by some 30 millimetres ensured sporty handling without compromising on the renowned Mercedes suitability for long-distance touring. With wide-base 245/40 ZR 18 tyres at the front and size 275/35 ZR 18 at the rear, the C 32 AMG Sports Coupé came with multipiece AMG light-alloy wheels in 8.5 x 18 (front) and 10 x 18 (rear) format as standard.
Notwithstanding this high level of technology, the C 32 AMG Sports Coupé was in no way inferior in its appearance. The powerfully designed front apron and chunky rear apron undisputedly marked this two-door car as a member of the AMG family of high-performance vehicles. One entirely new development was the AMG sports exhaust system: the Sports Coupé with V6 supercharged engine had a two-pipe exhaust. The two oval, chrome-plated exhaust tailpipes made the perfect finishing touch in true AMG style, as well as delivering impressive sound. Conversions of a standard production vehicle to a C 32 AMG Sports Coupé were completed to customer specifications by Mercedes-AMG in Affalterbach. Customisation with regard to interior appointments or wheel and tyre combinations was carried out by the AMG production facility.
The C 30 CDI AMG partnered an entirely new direct-injection turbodiesel engine featuring common rail technology and signature AMG virtues such as sporty power delivery and high driving dynamics with the classic CDI quality of low fuel consumption. The EVOLUTION AMG sports package underlined the Sports Coupé's membership of the Mercedes-AMG family of high-performance cars. This package included AMG 17-inch twin-spoke wheels with mixed-size tyres, the AMG high-performance braking system, AMG SPEEDSHIFT automatic transmission and other AMG-specific items of interior equipment. With five cylinders and a displacement of 2950 cc, the CDI engine achieved a maximum output of 170 kW (231 hp) at 3800 rpm and maximum torque of 540 newton metres. Getting to 100 km/h from a standstill took 6.8 seconds in the Sports Coupé, with a top speed of 250 km/h.
Some of the innovative features of the five-cylinder, in-line CDI engine from AMG were newly engineered engine components such as a sophisticated intercooler with an air/water heat exchanger and separate low-temperature circuit. In the process, air compressed by the turbocharger was directed into the intercooler installed next to the engine which had a special water cooling circuit, not just air. On the C 30 CDI AMG, all mechanical engine components were newly engineered by Mercedes-AMG engineers including the crank assembly, reinforced pistons with oil-spray cooling for the piston crowns, an optimised cylinder head bolt connection and an uprated oil pump. This engineering effort made a definitive contribution to the exemplary refinement of the performance-oriented AMG diesel engine. Every AMG CDI engine was made by hand at the new engine production facility in Affalterbach. The "one man, one engine" philosophy meant that a single technician was responsible for assembling an entire AMG high-performance engine. The visible proof was an engraved badge bearing their signature and placed - in the case of the AMG CDI engine - on the cylinder head.
Power transmission on the C 30 CDI AMG was handled by a five-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT automatic transmission. This combined the dynamism of a manual transmission with the comfort of an automatic. For a diesel vehicle, electronic torque converter lockup from first gear delivered an unprecedented and exceptionally direct driving experience. More immediate and faster gear changes resulted in high agility at all speed ranges, thereby emphasising the sporty nature of the nippy AMG diesel vehicles. The AMG sports suspension on the diesel sports car came from the C 32 AMG and was optimised for the C 30 CDI AMG with newly setup spring damper elements and stronger stabilisers on the front and rear axle.
Mercedes-Benz presented a special "Indianapolis" version of the Sports Coupé at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in September 2003. This special model attracted attention with a special paint finish in diamond black metallic and 16-inch light-alloy rims with a sporty double-spoke design. Protective strips at the side bore the lettering "Indianapolis". For a sporty touch, the interior was enhanced with an instrument cluster featuring an aluminium panel and dark red needles. The gear lever was adorned with a silver insert and the standard floor mats came with special piping and the "Indianapolis" lettering. Other standard equipment included trim parts on the centre console in high-grade aluminium, sensor-controlled THERMATIC automatic climate control and bright bi-xenon headlamps with a clear glass look, dynamic headlamp range control and a headlamp cleaning system. Any of the four-cylinder engines from the C-Class Sports Coupé could be selected for the special "Indianapolis" model.
In spring 2004 (four years after the market launch) and together with the Saloon and Estate, Mercedes-Benz significantly enhanced the successful C-Class Sports Coupé in terms of engineering, equipment and design. More than 187,000 customers opted for the C-Class Sports Coupé between 2001 and the end of 2003. The majority of these were new Mercedes customers who were attracted by the two-door model.